Archive for March, 2012

Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One

March 22, 2012

An informant has information about a drug-dealing Federal Judge.

Lionel Rigger: Ted Neely, Deputy District Attorney Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Deputy Police Chief Reasonor: Quinn Redeker, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, Mardean Rigger: Troas Hayes, Jamie: Heather Hobbs, Gesslin: George Pentecost, Judge Belin: Michelle Davison, Linda: Susan Kiger, Kathy: Linda Lawrence. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is the first part of a four-hour story in which Starsky and Hutch set in motion a series of events that awaken a powerful enemy. It’s among the most brutally realistic of episodes as it follows a case from the first crimes to the informant Lionel Rigger, through the investigation, to a court hearing that tests their dedication to the badge.

Ted Neely is perfectly cast as the unfortunate Lionel Rigger, and he has a difficult job to do. He has to make Lionel, a down-at-his-heels snitch with a history of drugs and crime, both likeable and believable. In a very short time, and without much to work with, you have to care about him, and Neely does this wonderfully by giving extra dimensions to his character, bringing to life a good friend and a generous person, quick with a joke and a helping hand. His accent places him somewhere between Louisiana and Georgia, and he has an earnestness and sincerity that is entirely without sentiment. You just feel that Lionel Rigger, despite doing things he regrets, is a worthy person, someone you’d like to know, whose loss will be very hard to take.

Why don’t the girls get changed after their show in the club’s dressing room? It seems silly to walk upstairs to their apartment still wearing their glittering costumes, much less starting to pack for a trip. It looks good on camera though (which is, of course, why they did it). It’s a bit of a mystery when one says to the other, as she’s stuffing drug envelopes into the fake pregnancy pouch, “well, you said you wanted a girl!” They both laugh, as if this means something.

Starsky is unfazed by Hutch’s angry refusal to pick a card, cajoling until Hutch, playing the victim, is nevertheless either momentarily arrested by the possibility of magic, or certain that if he doesn’t pick the damn card this will go on for hours. It’s charming when Hutch accuses his partner of not “dealing with a full deck” and Starsky says agreeably, “True”. Hutch says “sad but” and Starsky finishes it for him, “true.”

They go off in hot pursuit of what Hutch calls “the mule train” although it’s not really possible they would know this for sure, as it’s too far to see a plate or any distinguishing details of the car, and surely the drug barons aren’t dumb enough to use the same vehicle over and over again.

I like how the worst thing the girl can say when she’s busted is that Starsky and Hutch are “tacky”.

Is it me or is playing drums by the seaside – not the more portable bongoes, but a full-fledged set of drums – a really, really peculiar thing to do? Perhaps this is close to Venice Beach, renown for all things funky.

Despite having all four seasons in proximity to the the Pacific Ocean this is the only time we see Starsky and Hutch on a beach. I’m not counting “Class in Crime”, because that beach is atypically cold, windy and deserted and not something we associate with southern California. This scene is very scenic and adds to the atmosphere of the episode; it can be nowhere else than crazy-making Los Angeles. Later, the ocean provides a watery grave for the famous badge-throwing scene.

It’s wonderful how the guys stare at Lionel intensely, indicating through silence that negotiations have begun. They also look at each other, evaluatively, searchingly, and you can almost hear what they’re saying without a single word being spoken: this feels bad.

Rigger could not possibly be in trouble because he has simply listened to the judge’s offer. Huggy mentions Lionel wants to work something off, but he hasn’t done anything wrong in this instance: all he has done is listen to the judge and consider it. Then he approaches Starsky and Hutch and offers to help them. If anything, he’s a hero at this stage, so why does Hutch say the best he can get Lionel is a suspended sentence? The only way around this is what Huggy implies – and it’s an implication only – that Lionel Rigger is in trouble for another crime, unrelated to this one.

Throughout the interrogation at the station, Hutch is remarkable for the affection he shows Lionel. Starsky is more guarded, but both have obviously formed an immediate positive impression of this man, further evidence of their good instincts about people. It is reminiscent of their immediate trust in Tom Cole (“The Hostages”) and Jimmy Spenser (“The Heavyweight”), two guys who might have been on the wrong side of things given a superficial reading of the situation.

Starsky appears to be dead tired throughout this episode. He has shadows under his eyes and is uncommunicative and pessimistic, and so dour Hutch says, amusingly, “I bet when you were small you were one of those kids who used to go the library and tear out the last pages of the mystery.” Starsky, true to form, merely looks blank and doesn’t bother to spar. The reason for this is unknown, but it may hint at a season’s worth of buried resentments and unvoiced concerns, either between the two detectives or with the job as a whole, or both.

The guys have a long discussion with the assistant DA and Dobey about Lionel testifying. They run down several gruesome stories in which informants have met untimely deaths just before their court date. Here, the question presents itself: why don’t they take Lionel right out of the picture entirely and go undercover themselves instead? Starsky looks a bit like Lionel, and the judge has not met him in person. All the judge would have to go on might possibly be a mug shot, but slap a moustache and a wool cap on Starsky and it would be quite convincing. Then you have the recording of the deal, and Starsky’s expert testimony, and Rigger is kept safely out of the picture. In “Ninety Pounds” Hutch had no hesitation in adopting the guise of the hit man, so what’s the difference here?

A word about Assistant DA Clayburn, played by Ken Kercheval. It’s a rare case of a lawyer seeming to be a good guy, having the three elements Starsky and Hutch admire most when it comes to those in power: adaptability, imagination, and honor. You can tell they withhold judgment on Clayburn until the magic moment when he gives a wonderfully crooked grin and says “but I love it”, signaling his willingness to play. Hutch is positively flirtatious when he says warmly, “well counsellor, you can cross-examine.” Sparks are flying.

Set Dec notes: the Rigger household is the same set as Gina’s house in “The Game”, down to the wallpaper.

Starsky is very interested in Mardean’s photographs, which is consistent with his own hobby as a photographer.

I’ve never thought Mardean Rigger quite belonged with someone like Lionel. Just based on appearances, she seems like a nice well-dressed middle-class mom and it’s kind of hard to believe she’d throw her lot in with someone like him. Could this be a marriage of opposites, or is there more to Mardean than meets the eye?

Starsky and Hutch tell Rigger they’ve been offered seven thousand dollars for the “grease job”. But if Lionel is the middleman here, how are instructions getting to Starsky and Hutch? We never seen them receiving the details of the job. Later, when Rigger is on the phone with the bad guys saying they have to give an upfront deal in coke, he has to tell them the names of Starsky and Hutch, as if they don’t know it already.

One of the best things about this episode is the dialogue-heavy nature of it. Reams of words are said without action – occasionally, as in the scene in the conference room during the trial, it verges on resembling a PBS documentary about the politics of the district attorney’s office versus the police department. It’s a wonderful hiatus from the muscular action of earlier episodes and typical of the maturing a television series. Ideas are on the forefront here, rather than events.

One of the unanswered questions in this episode is whether or not Starsky and Hutch have considered the source of the drugs the judge is dealing. They are focused on McClellan because he has taken an oath to uphold justice and integrity, which makes his crimes all the more sour. However, the drugs are originating in Las Vegas. Do they ever think of following the trail, not to its end, but to its beginning? And is James Gunther the font of all this misery?

More of Dobey mismanaging a situation, when he sounds “like a police manual” when unsuccessfully trying to reassure Mardean. I think it’s a misstep to have Lionel be a family man, with an attractive loving wife and cute kid. It comes off as an attempt to make him more lovable and with more to lose, and therefore more of a tragic figure. However, given Lionel’s drug and crime history, and the fact he looks and acts like a bum, it makes no sense for him to have a cozy middle-class family. It would be like plunking Huggy down in the suburbs with a two-car garage and a cardigan. Yes, Lionel could be one of those guys making major strides out of trouble and into respectability – it happens – but the depth of his current involvement in this scheme makes that a trifle unlikely.

“It’s a great movie,” Starsky tells Lionel, trying to get him to watch. “This time the Indians win.” Considering this is an old black-and-white movie from the fifties, you can bet the Indians don’t win, but Starsky is trying to change history, and through that trying to change the growing sense of doom surrounding this case.

Hutch does the fastest shopping in the world. However, he displays a remarkable stupidity when he doesn’t alert to the person right beside him having car trouble (wearing, it should be said, the iconic bad-guy silver jacket Hutch himself wore while undercover in “Survival”). Surely he would worry about such a coincidence, given the tense situation. This is the one moment in the episode when I want to throw something at the screen.

The bomb guy gets to the location before Hutch does, meaning he knows where Lionel is holed up. That is, he gets into position with the trigger. If this is the case, why bother planting the device on Hutch’s car? And if he didn’t know where Lionel was, how in the heck did he get there so fast?

Is it too much to expect Starsky to stick with Lionel following the explosion, and get him to safety? He bolts to Hutch just like the bad guys expect him to. There should have been a Plan B worked out beforehand, instructions should Lionel find himself suddenly alone and vulnerable, even if it’s something as simple as locking himself in the bathroom. Also, there would be no guarantee this bomb-as-distraction plan would work, unless the bad guys knew for certain of Starsky’s immediate concern for his parter’s safety above all else. Did they get this intelligence from the street?

When Huggy says, “hang on, Jamie, you’re on your own now” the line has multiple meanings.

Huggy rages that “Lionel was a nobody as far as you’re concerned”, “just a snitch”, that “you let him down”, “you used him and then you back-stabbed him” “you don’t give a damn about people, you just use them.” This is probably the angriest Huggy is during the entire series. He’s despairing and near tears. I’ve always wondered if this solely because of the tragic death of his friend Lionel, or if Huggy venting some deeply buried hostility toward the guys. This could be, in a sense, much like “Starsky vs. Hutch” in which an explosively angry argument is not only in response to the current state of things but to a long-simmering and unexpressed issue. Earlier, Huggy has also referred to his connection to Starsky and Hutch as an “already fragile relationship” after he is beat up by Bagely’s men in “The Trap”. Starsky tells Hutch that Huggy doesn’t seen to be happy to be “part of the team.” However, Huggy has always treated these episodes of disappointment or frustration somewhat impersonally, understanding them as part of his dangerous relationship and never directly blaming either Starsky or Hutch and certainly never impugning their characters.

One has to wonder about Mardean as a mother. Despite her passionate defense to Dobey about her family, first her young daughter climbs into a car with strangers, then is allowed to play with Huggy – alone – after he’s basically the one responsible for her husband getting killed. “Uncle Huggy” or not, I’m not sure I’d let my kid anywhere near him after that.

Hutch plants the purple plastic whirligig into the sand. This is the same one spinning merrily on Lionel’s drum set the first time we meet him. It implies Hutch returned to the Rigger house and spent a little time in the garage, looking at the drum set and thinking about what happened, how a good man was lost and his own part in it. If that’s the case, what a truly heart-wrenching scene that must have been, and it’s too bad we didn’t get to see it.

It’s Hutch who first takes his badge out with the intention of resigning. Starsky, who says he’s going to the movies, has left him to walk down the beach alone. Of them both, Hutch has always seemed the most obviously upset about the situation. “The way I see it, this old badge has polluted me just about enough.” This sounds as if he’s been contemplating quitting for some time, maybe even before this case, but it still strikes me as odd he’d consider leaving the force without even mentioning it to his partner. Starsky has had two previous instances of threatening to resign: one as a way of saving fellow officer’s lives in “Pariah”, a selfless act and not intended to be evidence of him really desiring to leave. The other results from his giddiness about being an heir in “Golden Angel”, a light moment not to be taken seriously, and therefore not a black mark on the partnership. Here, in “Targets”, is a more egregious misstep on Hutch’s part. He seriously intends to quit, and does not confide in his partner. To me, this is a terrible mistake made by the writers, some kind of script shortcut that results in another bit of chipping away at the idea of a heroic partnership. Throughout the run of the series the writers are consistently guilty of avoiding having Starsky and Hutch have a mature conversation about a problem, preferring to stage a shouting match or have one act independently with no regard for the other. This may be pressure to produce thrills, or it may be a generalized squeamishness about the possible implications of male intimacy. It could signal a general disinclination to treat their characters seriously, or the series seriously. But what’s wrong with a scene in which Hutch would say “I feel angry and betrayed. I don’t know how to handle it” followed by Starsky saying, “let’s talk it over” and Hutch then admitting, “I’m thinking we should just quit. There’s nothing left for us now. What do you think about that?” See, was that so hard?

Starsky and Hutch must have informed Dobey about quitting the force, and it’s unfortunate we don’t get to see the blustery fireworks.

A car full of guys shooting at Starsky and Hutch, and what do they do? Run toward them. And by the way, if the intention is to kill, why the messy driving, the wild and imperfect shooting? This is not the way to murder anyone, especially in a public place. Don’t accelerate and veer wildly in the street, don’t make a big idiot of yourself driving into fences and scattering pedestrians. A slow, casual drive-by and two shots, and the job would be done before anyone noticed.

Clothing notes: It’s a treat to see Hutch wearing his great serape again despite the heat (last seen in “Long Walk”); he later wears a sharp black jacket, fancy jeans and his horn necklace. Starsky wears his usual.

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Episode 84: Huggy Can’t Go Home

March 5, 2012

When an old friend he owes asks him for help, Huggy is dragged back into a past he thought he’d escaped.

JT Washington: Richard Ward, Big Red: Roger E Mosley, Dolphin: Royce D Applegate, Boseman: Lee Weaver, Cora Lee: Francesca Roberts, Junior: Bryan O’Dell, Newsboy: Al “Jocko” Fann, Lonnette: Candy Mobley. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh and Rick Edelstein, Directed By: David Soul

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s another nice direction job by Soul, who often employs a crane-mounted camera to give us a bird’s eye view of this busy, rather insular inner-city neighborhood. In this Huggy-centered episode, Antonio Fargas gives an elegant, understated performance, perhaps his best of the series. Always quirky and expressive, he plays this one quietly and thoughtfully, and it’s great to watch. Interestingly, this episode seems more realistic than many others we have seen lately, and not only because there is an absence of fashion shows, beautiful girls, or slick, upscale locations. Here, realism is in the mundane: the many ordinary people populating the street scenes, and lovely touches like Starsky and Hutch actually getting stranded in LA traffic.

The gravely-voiced JT Washington is played by Richard Ward, originally cast as Dobey in the pilot.

Of note is the lengthly scene between Starsky and the boy delivering papers. Played beautifully and naturally by Al Fann, the boy is remarkable for his world-weary cynicism, his gangster-in-the-making indifference to violence. It’s terrible to see a mix of innocence, intelligence and chilling ambition. “When I grow up I’m gonna have a super-fine ride and a stable of foxy ladies,” he tells Starsky, his mouth smeared with ice cream. “Delivering papers is a drag. Ain’t no future in it.” Here, Starsky’s affinity with children is put to good use: he shows respect, is never preachy or even much surprised by what he hears, later describing him to Hutch as “a thirty-year-old hustler in a ten-year-old body who conned me out of two fudgicles.” The lack of sanctimony and scripted boo-hooing is a hallmark of the series and particularly affecting here – we all know where this kid is headed, and what a waste it is, and we can all see the larger socioeconomic tragedy at work, but we are not lectured to.

Huggy says Boseman is a cheater at cards, “liable to get himself killed one of these days”. Starsky tells him he did, then says, “you don’t look surprised.” Is Huggy’s explanation – that he’s never surprised at death in his neighborhood – fully or partially true? Did he know it was Boseman who lay dead in the street? (Later, he mentions to his old mentor JT that he may have recognized one of the shooters, but makes no mention of knowing the victim). If he did, why wouldn’t he be straight with Starsky about being a witness, since at this point he knows nothing about the situation? His demeanor suggests he knows a violent robbery in that particular building can only mean one thing – his former mentor Washington is in trouble, and trouble will inevitably come knocking on his own door. His instinct is to keep quiet until he knows how the wind is blowing. Understandable, maybe. But it still shows us that he will always be on one side of the line, and Starsky and Hutch will be on the other.

Huggy says he has a “bad taste in my mouth trying to figure out who my friends are”, which is unfair, as well as untrue. This is a murder investigation, and he knows by now how it will – and should – be investigated. Which is to say fairly, and without prejudice. He would expect nothing less from them. When feeling under threat, Huggy’s prickly defensiveness is in recognition of the fact that, if necessary, they will not hesitate to take him down.

Of course, the plot to this episode is startlingly similar to Season One’s “Kill Huggy Bear”, in which Huggy is reluctantly drawn into covering for a friend in a plot involving stolen money. Both Red and Dolphin, and Dewey from “Kill”, drive away from a robbery in which they shoot a man in a panic. Both parties involve the “light green Ford” in a minor traffic accident: this time, it’s blocking the get-a-way car and they run into it, and previously Dewey drives the “light green Ford” into the car parked in front of him. Even more of a coincidence is that both of these episodes involve Huggy protecting someone and lying to Starsky and Hutch. In this episode, Starsky is immediately suspicious of Huggy, saying, “Huggy is a bad liar”. He also pointed the finger at Huggy in Season One, saying money has a way of turning people bad. In both cases, Hutch doesn’t disagree, yet still takes a more psychological approach. Here, he remarks, “Maybe he never had a good enough reason (to lie) before.”

Starsky says Huggy never lied before, so I can only conclude Starsky’s definition of a lie is different from mine, because it seems to me Huggy has been untruthful multiple times with both of them.

This episode is unique because it has, as its scenic centerpiece, the song “Huggy Can’t Go Back”, which is played as Huggy walks through his old neighborhood. The song is written by Jac Murphy, a member of Soul’s band, and sung by Dr. John. A precursor to today’s music videos – and better than ninety-nine per cent of them – it provides the soundtrack to a beautiful montage of a vibrant but troubled black neighborhood, with fadeouts from scene to scene. This is a strikingly contemporary use of music and image, and adds to the richness of this particular episode.

“Uptown’s comin’ slummin’?” asks one of the old gang as Huggy walks the street. This unprovoked insult is an interesting glimpse into how some feel about Huggy’s desire to better himself and his world, either through his various entrepreneurial projects or through a stubborn determination to see justice done, even at personal risk. It might also underline the idea that even though Huggy is extremely loyal, he is not perceived as such by his old cronies, who feel left behind or somehow slighted by his “uptown” ambitions.

As Huggy talks with Washington, the ever-present sound of the city interferes: barking dogs, children, traffic, sirens. Throughout the entire episode this jumble of noise continues, often just below conscious recognition. Wonderful, too, is the reverberating sound of the gunshot following the murder of Boseman. The sound echoes for a long time, giving the impression of flapping wings as it bounces off the walls, adding another dimension to the emotional impact of the shooting. I give credit for this to the director, who no doubt had a hand in such a creative use of sound.

Washington tells Huggy to help him get “his” money back, lost when Boseman ran after the cash. Earlier, during the all-night game, the players insinuate Boseman was cheating, one saying he’d just lost “eight grand”. One assumes the others were similarly losing equal amounts, which would explain the large take. However, none of this really belongs to Washington, except the money he himself lost, if any (most likely a small amount, seeing as he is a canny, cautious sort with deep suspicions about his fellow players). Therefore, he is asking Huggy to steal the jackpot for him. His pathos and moral indignation is pretty much an act since he is no more the legal owner of the cash than anyone else.

This episode also echoes very strongly “Birds of a Feather.” Huggy and Washington are very much like Hutch and Luke Huntley. Both older men are mentors, calling in a favor that puts their young protégée at great risk and both wanting the “their” money back for their old age. Both older men use emotional blackmail to get what they want. Both also represent an antediluvian society in which father-son bonds are unbreakable. Both see themselves in their younger charges, while both realize, on some level, they will never achieve the moral certainty necessary for a break from the past.

There are many nice details in this episode, beginning with the liquid eyes of the children staring after Starsky and Hutch as they walk off in the aftermath of the shooting, and now here, in the café, as Huggy is mauled by the pretty Cora while another customer watches up close and personal. Later, when Dolphin picks up the order of gumbo, he’s stared at by a young lady at the counter, with whom he tries to flirt. There’s a sense, in these little non-sequitirs, that Huggy’s world is closely monitored by every one of its citizens. Even as Cora leaves with  her scooter, a young man helps her with the door, and stares at her as she leaves.

Cora Lee’s efforts to help Huggy remind us of his foray with the Turkey. Yet Cora Lee is a far more enchanting character to watch, and whole lot more fun. Her first steps in the detective racket show a keen intelligence and don’t-mess-with-me core of steel. Frankly, she’d be a terrific police officer. Watch how her her plaintive wheedling – “c’mon Huggy, we’re partners!” – quickly hardens into her reminder that she alone has the hotel room number.

Again we hear the similar voice of “Michael Jackson” on the television (“Survival”) narrating the hilariously titled soap “Tales of the Disenchanted” on the television, as Dolphin knocks on the hotel door.

There’s an interesting dynamic at work in the criminal partnership of Dolphin and Big Red. Red, who is black, is in control, while white Dolphin struggles with the inequity of the relationship. This is a remarkable inverse of the outside world and again shows the insularity of this neighborhood.

As in “A Coffin for Starsky”, the computer spits out the correct list of probables in the case of the shooting, zeroing in on Dolphin and Big Red. This presages the use of technology in future crime fighting. It also provides the background to why Starsky and Hutch have been working separately on this case from the beginning. Starsky takes the street, Hutch takes the paperwork. This correlates with their personalities: Starsky is more likely to be physical, Hutch cerebral.

Dobey reprimands Starsky and Hutch, “Don’t tell me the about the word on the street until you have spent as much time out there as I have.” Is Dobey speaking of time on the force or literally “time on the street”? Starsky and Hutch seem to have more street knowledge than Dobey at this point. Dobey always looks clumsy and unconvincing as soon as he gets out of the office.

“Because JT’s his mentor,” Dobey shouts, explaining Huggy’s irrational loyalties. “Taught him everything he knows.” Dobey says this with the utmost confidence, begging the question: how in the heck does he know this, barring an intensive interrogation session?

When Dobey threatens to remove both Starsky and Hutch from the action, this may be the first time he has threatened to take both men off a case. However, it’s half-hearted; he basically pushes them back onto it.

Interestingly, this is the only time during the run of the series in which Starsky and Hutch do not charge in at the last moment, guns blazing, and save a friend in need.

Big Red dies (in a startling, naturalistic way, the moment between life and death a mere wisp). Huggy is alone in the room with him and the bag of money. We hear Starsky and Hutch call out for him. Cut to the tag, and a late-night drinking session at the Pits in which Starsky seems slightly worse for wear. Huggy dismisses Cora Lee because her mother was fat (implying she will inevitably be as well – as if this is a romantic deal-breaker, which is sad, as well as ignorant). The guys then try to squeeze Huggy for information about why JT suddenly got the funds to open a dry cleaning establishment, but Huggy lies (again), which pretty much sums up why he will never really be close to the two detectives. This tells us Huggy not only stole the money but also managed to escape mere seconds from being tracked by the two detectives. This seems improbable, and is the only moment in this fine episode that doesn’t quite ring true. On a lighter note, it’s quite touching to think that becoming a dry cleaner counts as getting “out”.

Clothing notes: both Hutch and Starsky are sleekly attired in various sweaters with zips, jeans and jackets. There is a lot of symbolic red here, emphasized in both clothing and props: Huggy’s remarkable red Cadillac, Big Red drinking a red pop, Starsky with a red napkin at the bar, Huggy’s sweater and t-shirt are both red, “Big Red” wears a red shirt to the robbery, the red blood stains JT, the light shining through the red liquid in the basement bottle, the bag of money is stained by blood.